Saturday, January 13, 2007

Why Don't Parents Hire Lawyers for Their Kids?

There has been a lot of talk around the public defender blogosphere regarding a recent study on the effectiveness of public defenders versus private defense attorneys, as outlined in this Op/Ed piece in the New York Times. Much of the discussion has focused on the methodology of the study and whether it is an accurate depiction of the private attorney/public defender issue. But I am much more interested in the conclusion of the opinion piece--that marginally indigent defendants (those who qualify as indigent, but who could manage, with sacrifice and assistance from family and friends, to hire a good, private attorney) who are guilty tend to rely on public defenders, while the marginally indigent innocent tend to hire private counsel.

As I was thinking about this conclusion, it struck me that, in the county where I practice, virtually none of the juveniles accused of crimes are represented by hired counsel. As juveniles, they are all presumed indigent, and entitled to be represented by my office. But, just like an adult defendant, they have the right to hire private counsel if they choose. As children, it's highly unlikely they'd be capable of retaining an attorney on their own, so if private counsel is employed, it is because their parents have chosen to pay the money to do so.

Many of my clients come from poor families, those whom I would classify as truly indigent, and not marginally indigent. But, there are quite a few that come from middle class families as well. Certainly, many of these parents could marshal the resources to hire a private attorney. And yet, except on very rare occasions, they choose not to. Why? Is it because these parents don't care about their children's cases as much as they would care about their own? That they don't think whatever consequences their child might receive from the juvenile system are severe enough to merit laying out the money for an attorney? That they don't believe in their children's innocence? Or are they simply more willing to trust a public defender to do the best job that can be done than they would be if it were themselves standing accused?

I am not a parent. But I often hear parents say that they would sacrifice their lives for their children--that they would do anything to protect their children, no matter the personal consequence. But when it comes to their children being threatened with sanctions in the criminal justice system, that doesn't seem to be the case. At least not in the county where I practice. Or, maybe it says something about the children that end up in the juvenile justice system. Is it possible that a good percentage of the kids who end up in the juvenile system have parents who aren't so self-sacrificing? That they aren't the parents who would do anything to protect their children, no matter the personal consequence?

I think I do a very good job for my clients. And I like to believe that I get them just as good results as they would get if they hired a private attorney. But, if the prevailing viewpoint in society is that public defenders don't do as good a job as hired attorneys, why do so many parents entrust their children to me, instead of doing whatever it takes to pay a private lawyer to stand up for the rights of their children?

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13 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

as a parent I love my children and would do anything for them. I just don't understand attorney's though - speaking from experience and spending over 40,000.00 on attorney's it seems to me that the one's I have dealt with have been nothing more than thieves. The only difference between attorney's and thieves are attorney's get by with it because they have the law on thier side. Sometimes we get advice from other's who say go with the public defender as they are attorneys that are appointed by the courts and they will negotiate on your behalf! Give me a break - the states pays them do you really think they care about you....NO...when will enough families get together and fight the justice systems, attorney's, cops, prosecutors that LIE and accuse and convict innocent people. One day it may be your family member and then you will see how the justice system really doesn't work!

1/14/2007 5:36 PM  
Blogger Ruth said...

During my time as a juvie PD, I noticed that some of my clients had parents that cared about them (some having money and others not) and some of my clients' parents simply didn't care about them. Some of my clients' parents couldn't not be bothered to come to court with their child, never mind filling out the indigency application or hiring an attorney. And we wonder why those parents' children get into trouble! Now far be it from me to say the sole cause of delinquency is parents, but I have noticed a certain correlation. That being said, I've also represented children whose parents do care, and do consult with the attorney, even though they might not have the money to pay a private lawyer. Just food for thought...

1/14/2007 6:30 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

In my pd experience, most parents feel that the child should admit whatever it is they did. To them it is the same as punishing their kid for not picking up their room or not doing the dishes.

Most have no conception of the consequences of their child racking up a succession of delinquency petitions.

Those that want their child to have a defense are few and far between.

1/15/2007 5:13 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The First Anon has a bit of a credibility problem, because she claims that public defenders somehow don’t represent the interests of their clients. Therefore, I don’t believe the rest of her story about spending so much money and lawyers taking her money. Indeed, now I think the police were telling the truth, and she was lying so whatever conviction resulted was just.

The last anon gets it right: too many parents think that juvenile justice is similar to parental punishment. I have seen this myself, and these, by far, are the worst of parents. The harm they did their children – by, not, at the very least, assisting some what in their defense – is worse than anything any criminal or lying cop could do.

1/15/2007 8:14 AM  
Blogger 123txpublicdefender123 said...

You are exactly right about parents just wanting their kids to admit they were wrong and go from there. I have almost gotten into yelling matches with parents (it never got to actual yelling, but sometimes it was close) over the fact that their child was NOT going to plead guilty at arraignment. Most have no idea the cascade of consequences even a juvenile conviction brings.

But I have also had parents who are adamant about their child's innocence and the misconduct of the police and/or the other kid and, even in cases where they can afford private counsel (judging by their jobs, the cars they're driving, etc.), they don't. I'm not saying they should. Like I said, I think I do an excellent job for my clients. I'm just curious as to why the phenomenon observed in this study--that even the marginally indigent scrape together the money to pay for a lawyer when they are innocent--doesn't seem to occur in juvenile cases the way it does in adult cases. Of course, I am speaking anecdotally. Maybe a statistical analysis wouldn't bear out the discrepancy I speak of. It's just interesting to me.

1/16/2007 8:04 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm in a horrible custody/visitation case in which my two children hired their own attorney! That's how ineffective the GAL was for them. Now the father is trying to have their attorney removed from the case. Doesn't that speak volumes? The children are 13 and 14 and have had enough of the verbal and emotional abuse from their father. The GAL thinks the mother has an ulterior motive and favors the father regardless of the abuse. The abuse has not reported, it's emotional and verbal and somewhat physical. Since you cannot "see" the abuse, the children must be heard. Their attorney listens and takes their voices to court. Their GAL does not. How can I keep the kids attorney?

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